Bill would allow smoking at Iowa Veterans Home

Defying federal no-smoking policy for Veterans Affairs could risk loss of federal funding, lawmaker says

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Brown color filter bottom cigarette on wooden floor.
Adobe Stock Brown color filter bottom cigarette on wooden floor.

The Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown would be required to allow all its residents to smoke, despite risking federal funding, according to a state Senate study bill passed this week by a legislative subcommittee.

The Veterans Home, Iowa’s only care facility specifically for veterans and their spouses, prohibited smoking in 2019 following an inspection by Veteran Affairs and the implementation of nationwide no-smoking policy in VA facilities, the Marshalltown Times-Republican reported.

The Veterans Home, one of the largest such facilities in the country, provides care and housing for up to 550 veterans. There are 412 residents there now.

Home administrators allowed 41 residents who started living there before the ban to continue to smoke in a designated area with supervision. The problem is, newer residents don’t think it’s fair they can’t smoke, too, despite having signed a pledge to adhere to the no-smoking policy.

“The residents of the home are war veterans,” said Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, during a subcommittee meeting Tuesday on Senate Study Bill 1080. “They deserve the dignity and freedom of choice if they’ve been smoking that long. We want to allow our veterans at IVH to smoke and make accommodations for that.”

Veterans Home administration said this week they were not consulted about the bill.

“All applicants are made aware that IVH is transitioning to a smoke-free environment to ensure a future emphasis on health and safety for our staff and residents,” the facility said in an email. “Smoking is no longer permitted for new admissions. We are all aware that smoking is a hazard to personal health and to those who are impacted by secondhand smoke.”

The Veterans Home has had incidents in past years in which smoking caused injury or property damage, in one case resulting in death, the home reported.

The Veterans Affairs subcommittee voted 2-1 this week to pass SSB 1080, but not before some lively debate.

Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, said he has a petition with signatures of 100 Veterans Home residents who think smoking should be allowed to continue.

“I sat and listened to my residents and I heard both sides and I had nonsmokers tell me that they think that others should be able to smoke,” Edler said. “I’ve had nonsmokers say they shouldn’t be smoking. But at the end of the day this is about rights and rights of your home.”

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said she’d rather help veterans quit smoking to improve their health and reduce secondhand smoke for staff.

“You’re making it sound like smoking is all that they have to live for,” she said.

“You’ve probably never smoked yourself,” Carlin replied. “You’ve probably never hung out at a bar, had a beer, smoked cigarette with your buddies. I used to be a bouncer in a bar and a bartender and I would be serving people drinks, you know, that becomes almost like church to these people and that’s how they socialize, that’s how they hang out.”

Mathis said skirting the Veterans Affairs Administration’s nationwide no-smoking policy might put at risk the $20 million a year the federal government provides to the Veterans Home. This federal support is nearly 23 percent of the home’s $87.2 million budget, as compared with the $7.1 million, or 8 percent, from Iowa’s general fund.

“They would lose federal funding and that would be disastrous,” Mathis said.

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